The Capital Press editorial on Dec. 15 asks two important questions about Oregon’s “Cap and Invest” proposal. 1) How much would this proposed policy reduce global temperature? 2) How much would it cost farmers? While key details in the policy are not finalized, we can provide some context and some answers.
It is helpful to split the first question into two: 1a) How much would the policy reduce emissions, and 1b) How much would the reduced emissions affect global temperature?
There are several examples of carbon emissions responding to carbon policy. Emissions in British Columbia decreased 20 percent compared with the rest of Canada after it set a modest $30 per ton price on fossil carbon, and its economy performed as well as the rest of Canada. California’s carbon policies are on track to reduce emissions more than 15 percent below 2015 levels by 2020, and its economy is flourishing. One study estimated a 50 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions after 20 years if a U. S. price on carbon increases $10 per ton each year, with 2 million additional jobs added if the revenue is returned equally to all residents.
While Oregon’s contributions to global emissions reductions under the “Cap and Invest” bill would be small compared to global emissions, Oregon would be doing its part and contributing to the solution. Every country in the world except the U.S. is committed to the substantial emissions reductions pledged at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. California and many other states have specific policies. Many corporations have specific policies, too; even oil companies such as Shell and Exxon support a price on carbon and are major investors in carbon-free energy. Numerous cities have pledged to reduce carbon emissions. If Oregon, along with other states and countries, meet the emissions reduction targets, emissions at the end of the century will be 30 percent less than now and less than half of estimated emissions without the Paris Climate Agreement.
How much would the reduced emissions affect global temperature? We don’t need models to know that carbon dioxide affects climate. Ice cores from Antarctica tell us the 9F temperature swings between ice ages and interglacial warm periods over the last million years are always associated with carbon dioxide concentration changes comparable to the 30 percent increase directly measured over the last 60 years. Such climate changes cannot be explained without accounting for the changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. So a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions will make a difference, reducing warming at 2100 from about 6-7F to 3-4F.
Farmers have a lot to lose from climate change. We rely on mountain snowpack as a natural reservoir of water supplying our irrigation needs during the dry summer months. Precipitation is already more extreme than it used to be. My own research suggests a 70 percent loss of mountain snowpack in the western U. S. by 2100 with modest action to reduce carbon emissions. Trees would be stressed by drier soils and more prone to fires. Winter floods would be much more common.
Farmers will benefit from reductions in global carbon emissions. The Paris emissions reductions will prevent devastating impacts, but global warming would still deplete mountain snowpack by 50 percent by 2100. A more aggressive carbon fee and dividend proposed by Citizens Climate Lobby could limit warming to 2 degrees and further reduce extreme weather and impacts on mountain snowpack.
Oregon’s “Cap and Invest” proposal is designed to fulfill Oregon’s contribution to emissions reductions while protecting Oregon’s farmers, businesses and workers. The draft bill currently contains specific benefits for farmers: it earmarks 20 percent of funds for projects in rural areas, earmarks funds for carbon sequestration projects on farms, as well as funds to subsidize carbon-free energy throughout the state. But because the bill is still being crafted, we cannot say exactly how the proposal would impact the cost of gasoline, diesel, electricity and other items that farmers and ranchers rely on. A $10 per ton carbon fee would raise gas prices about 10 cents per gallon. Recent drafts of the legislation contain provisions aimed at protecting Oregon’s farmers, and we applaud the voice Capital Press provides to call for key details and a complete analysis to ensure the Oregon policy is good for farmers.
We call on all Americans, and especially farmers, to engage in efforts to transition away from carbon emitting activities and thus limit global temperatures to levels at which farms and people can thrive.
Carla Wise, Ph.D. is a plant conservation biologist, writer and volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She lives in Corvallis, Ore., and is a strong advocate for Oregon food and farms. Steve Ghan, Ph.D., is a highly cited climate scientist and contributor to the IPCC assessment reports. He leads the Tri-Cities, Wash., chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.